NY, April 2017
unbag is American Artist, Logan Lape, Andy Wentz, and Aaron Cooper, all artists who are interested in conversation and writing. They have all arrived in New York to study and work during the last 3 and 5 years. American and Logan are from the West Coast. Andy is from the Mid-West. Aaron is Australian
AM: NY Art Maps/ AC: Aaron Cooper
AM: What is unbag? And what does the name stand for?
AC: Hmmm...unbag is an artist collective. We curate exhibitions, moderate panel discussions, stage critique groups and, now, we’re publishing a magazine.
The name is an acronym. When we first started working together in 2015, Andy Wentz and I wanted to put together a space in which our artist friends could hang out and discuss studio practice. It was all very unpretentious.
When promoting our first event it became evident that we needed a name. At that point, we hadn’t done anything and didn’t really have an identity, so the idea of a name seemed ridiculous. Andy coined “unnamed Brooklyn artist group”. We decided to run with it.
Now we use unbag for short.
AM: How did unbag start?
AC: As I mentioned, Andy and I were interested in organizing a structure that fosters critical dialogue between artists we like.
Initially, we functioned much like a critique group or seminar. We’d ask friends if it might be productive for them to open their studios to critical conversation. Often these meetings would take place in an apartment, or on a studio floor. Sometimes the artist had something new they were working on. Other times they’d present a slide show or lecture. We’d usually get between ten and twenty-five participants (many of these regulars) – and we always met in the evening.
As time went on, unbag started to get more visibility and so we began to receive more invitations and requests. Over 2015 and 2016, we worked with Sleep Center - an artist- run-space in Chinatown - where we moderated a series of panels. We also developed a couple of shows with them featuring artists we love.
Now - we’re working on a publishing project and have more members. For the time being, that’s our main focus - although, I’d love to get back to organizing events.
AM: How does the unbag critique series work?
AC: Ha! I like that you called it a ‘series’.
I suppose the easiest way to describe it is as an artist led seminar. We most often discuss work, ideas, or theory pertinent to that artist’s interest or practice.
The meetings are very egalitarian. The artist has a responsibility to be generous in the way that they lead the discussion, and participants have a responsibility to the work or ideas.
Anyone who’s interested in hermeneutic disciplines like art, social theory, or philosophy, is welcome to participate. We have no fixed space though, so you’ll have to meet us wherever we end up.
AM: When and why did you decide to make unbag as well a magazine?
AC: The move into publishing seemed only natural. Our function has always been about dialogue. Working with texts is simply an extension of that impulse. Here, however, the conversations are more tangible and have a possibility for wider circulation.
I guess Andy and I made a decision to pursue the publication in early 2016, although we had explored the idea much earlier than that. At the time, we conceived of the project as a “space” in which artworks that lend themselves to publishing contexts could be curated and distributed.
What we’re publishing now is a diversity of projects. Some might be characterized as artworks, others as literary works, and others as essays.
AM: Is there a specific subject matter for each publication? Or what is the criteria for selecting the texts and authors?
AC: Yeah – we develop a concept or question and curate works around that. For this issue, we worked with a prompt. We had a predetermined list of artists and writers that we invited to work with us. We also staged an open call, from which we met some interesting people.
As far as the theme goes...we’d stumbled on an antiquated word—metis
Metis has origins in ancient Greece. There’s no derivative of it in contemporary languages and there’s no known analysis of the word in any of the seminal texts produced during that period. It’s kind of a slippery, ambiguous term, however we can say that it describes forms of creative intelligence characterized by ‘cunning, wiliness, or trickery’.
For us – these qualities of cunning, guile, or illusion etc. might be contextualized in the practice of contemporary art. Not only do we find them in the formal characteristics of art, but they’re also relevant to its social role. Art is, in many ways constituted by paradox and contradiction. It's a kind of space in which something like metis fits very neatly.
So...obviously, we were compelled by the productive tension latent in this idea. We approached a diversity of artists to see what they would do with it.
For those looking for more information about metis, try Ben Singletons’s, (Notes Toward) Speculative Design, Michel de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life, or Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society by Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant)